Tucked against a fence in an East Los Angeles cemetery, a long, flat headstone reads: “In memory of the 16,500 precious unborn, buried here, Oct. 6, 1985.”
The aborted fetuses had been found in a metal storage container repossessed from the Woodland Hills home of a former medical laboratory owner who had kept them after testing.
Abortion defenders argued that they should be incinerated as medical waste. But abortion foes wanted to give them a funeral.
In the end, the remains were buried in six wooden boxes.
The debate then was a preview of what is becoming a new front in the battle over abortion — an issue that is expected to take center stage with President Trump in the White House and Republican lawmakers consolidating their hold over Congress and statehouses across the nation.
Over the last two years, at least five states have introduced requirements that healthcare facilities bury or cremate the remains from abortions, and in some cases also from miscarriages and stillbirths.
The rules in Arkansas and North Carolina already have taken effect. Texas, Louisiana and Indiana are embroiled in lawsuits challenging their regulations, with a decision in the emotionally charged Texas case expected as soon as this week.
The new regulations vary by state, but the basic idea is the same: The remains of the unborn must be treated like the remains of the born.
“A civil society does not throw the bodies of human beings into a landfill,” said Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Americans United for Life, which has drafted model legislation it hopes other states will adopt.
But advocates for abortion rights say that is an ideological viewpoint that the state has no business imposing on women. They see the regulations as part of a broader effort to curtail access to abortion by subjecting providers and their patients to ever more onerous and costly requirements.
Currently, most hospitals and abortion clinics contract with professional companies to dispose of fetal and embryonic tissue according to the protocols governing medical waste. Although rules vary from state to state, that typically means incinerating the remains, or putting them through a sterilization process, before placing them in landfills.
A number of states already have laws allowing grieving families to take possession of remains, if they want to hold funerals. The new rules enter more controversial terrain by requiring healthcare facilities to treat fetal remains in a similar way to dead bodies, even for pregnancies that last just a couple of weeks.
“It’s fairly transparently about recognizing that human life begins at conception,” said Tanya Marsh, an expert in funeral and cemetery law at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Marsh said the legal battles over the new regulations are likely to be long and could wind up before the Supreme Court.
At the heart of these disputes is a fundamental question on which the Constitution is silent: When does life begin?
In California, remains from pregnancies that last at least 20 weeks must be buried or cremated. The remains from shorter pregnancies can be disposed of as medical waste, unless they are — in the words of the law — a “recognizable dead human fetus.”
Three decades ago, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to take up the case of the thousands of fetuses recovered from the home in California. At issue was whether Los Angeles County officials could turn over the remains to a private cemetery for a religious burial.
The justices declined the case, letting stand a state court decision that a religious ceremony would violate the constitutional separation between church and state. A Los Angeles Superior Court then agreed to let the county arrange a non-religious interment.
The fetuses were buried in an unmarked grave at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
Hundreds of antiabortion activists, some carrying pictures of dismembered fetuses, attended the burial. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich read a message from President Reagan lamenting that “a whole category of human beings has been ruled outside the protection of the law.”
The flat tombstone was added later.
Not that many people notice it. None of the families who were at the cemetery one recent afternoon, clearing away Christmas garlands and placing fresh flowers on their loved ones’ graves, knew it existed.
“I wish they had told us,” said Gabriela Aguilera, 60, who was visiting her son’s grave, just a few yards away. “It would be nice to bring something for the babies.”
Full story at The LA Times.
In response to the LA Times, LifeSiteNews published an article on February 10: LA Times story suggests burying aborted babies an undue burden for women.